From the Darlington & Stockton Times of February 22, 1919

BENEATH the tantalising headline “minister and ex-verger at law”, the D&S Times of 100 years ago this week devoted great space to a battle between the perpetual curate of Arkengarthdale and his Swaledale sexton.

It was a battle that was obviously eagerly followed by dalesfolk as “there was an unusually large attendance at the court” when the case was heard in Richmond before His Honour Judge McCarthy.

It was a battle that was so keenly followed that the D&S didn’t see the need to print the location of the battlefield because everyone already knew it. The only clue is that it was a “chapel-of-ease attached to Grinton”, so we are foolhardily saying that the two clerical men clashed over St Mary’s Church, at Muker, which was built as a chapel of ease to Grinton in 1580.

The perpetual curate, the Reverend Albert Butterworth and the churchwardens were suing Thomas Coates, the former verger, for £10 10s which was the half year’s rent for two grass fields. Mr Coates counterclaimed £8 in unpaid wages. Both parties instructed big name Darlington solicitors – Edward Wooler, for the church, and John Latimer, for the verger, to battle it out.

“It had been expected that the case would involve much legal argument bearing upon ancient ecclesiastical custom, and the musty archives of far-off centuries, it is understood, had been diligently explored in the interests of one or the other of the parties concerned, but the issue left for the court to decide was finally narrowed down to the prosaic facts of an employment contract,” said the D&S with a degree of disappointment.

Mr Coates had been appointed, against stiff competition, verger and sexton on April 6, 1917. “His duties being to clean the church, attend to the heading and lighting, ring the bells and dig the graves,” said the D&S.

For this he was to receive £8-a-year plus access to two fields for his animals, although he had to live in a property – called either Scarr House or Church Cottage – beside the church so he could attend to church business. Every verger had lived there for at least 80 years.

However, Mr Coates failed to move in, despite constant promises that he was on his way.

By July 28, 1917, the reverend had had enough, and sacked the errant sexton, angrily shouting: “If you are not out within half-an-hour, I will turn your cattle on to the road and kick you out.”

In court, Mr Coates disputed the dust allegation, and claimed he only lived half-a-mile away from the church, thus rendering the residency clause in his contract “trivial”.

His Honour said that “the case was a very unfortunate one, and one which showed that there was a deal of human nature in small as well as crowded communities”.

He agreed that the residency clause might be trivial, but he asked Mr Coates’ solicitor: “If an eccentric employer might engage a clerk at £300-a-year on condition that he came every day in a red tie. If the person so engaged did not do so, would not that invalidate the contract.”

He found in favour of the perpetual curate, ordered Mr Coates to pay for the rent of the fields his cows had occupied, dismissed the counterclaim and gave Swaledale plenty of fodder for gossip for months to come.

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“A DISASTROUS FIRE” occurred in Ripon 100 years ago this week as the Spa Garage Motor Company and nine cars were destroyed by a blaze which broke out in a Fiat motor bus.

“When the fire was discovered, the bus was in a mass of flames,” said the D&S. “It is supposed that a lighted cigarette end, thrown carelessly on the floor of the bus, had ignited the rig, which had smouldered and finally burst into flames.

“The fire quickly assumed such alarming proportions that the steam fire engine was brought out and stationed in the Square, water being drawn from the tank there situated, this in its turn being fed from the Fishergate main.

“Shortly after six o’clock, the roof of the garage fell in with a crash, and nothing remains standing but the outer walls, the floor being one mass of debris in the shape of twisted ironwork, bricks, tiles etc.”

This interesting news story is amplified by that week’s Spectator column. “It again brings into prominence the desirability of each member of the voluntary fire brigade being placed in direct communication with the fire station by telephone,” opined Spectator.

“Under existing conditions the captain of the brigade, who has a private telephone fixed in his house, on receiving warning of a fire, has to summon the remaining members by messenger, and consequently there is a great loss of time at the most essential period of a fire.”

This had contributed to the loss of the Spa Garage.

Even more interestingly, Spectator adds that the garage’s building, in Park Street, had opened on August 20, 1792 as “The Assembly”.

It was built by theatre impresario Samuel Butler, who had been born in 1750 in York where he became an apprentice corset-maker. He didn’t stay as a corset apprentice, but instead became a travelling actor with a touring company. When the company’s leading man died, Butler took over the troupe and married his widow – the wonderfully named Tryphosa, who was 23 years older than him.

He built a circuit of theatres in Beverley, Harrogate, Kendal, Ulverston, Northallerton and Whitby, although the most famous was in Richmond, which he opened in 1788.

Butler died in 1812, and by the 1830s small theatres were waning in their popularity (although Ripon’s Theatre Royal was comparatively large as it could seat 320).

The Ripon theatre then became a military riding school and, at the outbreak of the First World War, the drill hall for the Ripon Volunteers.

All that history was lost because the firemen didn’t have proper telephones, although these stories are marked by a green plaque which was unveiled on Calvert’s Carpets, the building which rose from the Spa Garage’s ashes, in 2013.

February 20, 1867

THERE had been about ten burglaries at well-to-do properties in the Middlesbrough area. Among the victims was Carl Bolckow, the nephew and heir of the successful German ironmaster Henry who had recently become Middlesbrough’s first mayor and MP.

Two North Riding policemen had arrested a suspect they had spotted in North Ormesby “carrying a bundle and smoking a very nice meerschaum pipe, which afterwards was recognised by Mr Bolckow as being one of his”.

The suspect turned out not only to be living just three doors from the Ormesby police station but also he was “a notorious burglar” named Ignatly Inlander, a German joiner, who was taken to Northallerton jail where his photograph was due to be taken.

“Inlander betrayed no indications of a determination to escape, but while the photographer had retired to the darkened apartment adjoining to make the necessary chemical preparations, Inlander, who had been momentarily left unguarded, slipped off his shoes and stockings and left the room, with the intention of making his escape,” said the D&S.

“He had not reckoned, however, upon the labyrinthine character of the prison in which he now found himself at large, and before he had gone far his absence was discovered, and he was pursued.

“Inlander tried to double upon his pursuers, and succeeded in getting on the house-top, where he ran along the roof with great agility.” Remarkable agility considering he must have been dancing across the rooftops in bare feet.

“During this exciting chase, Capt Gardiner, the governor of the gaol, made his appearance, and threatened to shoot Inlander if he did not give himself up. The latter, after various unsuccessful attempts to get out of the way, fell from one of the prison walls to the ground, and broke his leg. He was, of course, soon recaptured and placed in durance, where a more strict supervision will be kept over him.”

Our recent brush with the word “strephonic” shows that there are a great number of people who enjoy an odd word, and this report throws up a couple. “Meerschaum” is German for sea foam, although meerschaum itself is a soft white clay, called sepiolite, which is mined in Turkey and was originally believed to be solidified sea foam. Meerschaum pipes were apparently known for providing a long, dry, flavoursome smoke – Sherlock Holmes was apparently a big fan of meerschaum pipes.

Secondly, “durance”, which is italicised in the 1867 paper. It is an old French word for “duration, lastingness” and the Oxford English Dictionary firmly marks it as obsolete.